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“Empathy drives profit” – why taking time to care pays off

Modern leadership can be hard to get right. The key to success? Tuning in to your employees’ feelings.

When it comes to getting your people to perform at their best, striking fear into their hearts no longer cuts it. To really keep your team on top, leaders need to lean towards a more emotionally intelligent way of working. We hear from Investors in People accredited organisations about the difference taking the time to care has made to their businesses.

“Empathy drives profit,” says Belinda Parmar, author of The Empathy Era. “The corporate world is in need of rehabilitation. Most working cultures are hierarchical and based on fear. They miss out on revenue, because they think there isn’t time to care.”

All too often workplace culture becomes a breeding ground for everything from competition to conflict, bravado to the downplaying of stress – and a whole host of negative emotions.  At its most basic level, emotional intelligence highlights the social skills and practices that enable you to empathise, understand and show an awareness of your own and others’ emotions: where they come from, how they manifest themselves and what sparks them.

But crucially, in the context of leadership, it’s about emotional management: dissolving conflict, inspiring the downbeat and allaying your employees’ fears. It’s an ability to respond to others’ feelings – just as importantly as your own – so that you can effectively respond to whatever circumstances crop up.  These are all leadership skills that can be taught, honed and practised. To nurture a more emotionally sophisticated way of working throughout your teams, introducing more steadfast wellbeing initiatives will really pay off.

Welcoming wellbeing

So how will weaving wellbeing into your day-to-day practices boost your bottom line? Whether it’s focusing on the individual, providing an open forum for discussion or putting programmes in place that put employee happiness upfront, leaders who prioritise their staff’s wellbeing are reaping the rewards of a happy, productive workforce.

IIP accredited City of Edinburgh Council (CoEC) is leading the way in employee emotional engagement with their Wellbeing Café – a pick and choose menu including everything from stop smoking services, to support with finances, walking clubs and discount gym membership.

With a clearer relationship between leaders’ understanding of employees’ productivity and their own emotional growth, CoEC tells us that this improvement in work-life balance has seen a clear rise in profit and positivity. Steve Wright, Organisational Development Office at CoEC explains “Leaders’ responsibilities for staff wellbeing and setting the right culture for performance is paramount here”. 

Over a three-year period, CoEC has seen a reduction in the number of grievances (down 65%), disciplinaries (down 27%) and absence rates (down 23%).

Intelligence vs. emotional intelligence

It’s a fair assumption to say that IQ doesn’t always correlate with EQ. So while a leader may be great with numbers, or planning, or ideas, it doesn't always mean they’ll be good at making measured decisions about their people.

"If you want people to perform, you can't do it by ordering them," says Russell Amerasekera, Empathy in Leadership Trainer. "It's about guiding, persuading and influencing." In short, emotional intelligence should be about giving your people the space to bring themselves to the role.

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) has recently empowered staff by introducing the ‘Think Yes’ programme , an initiative aimed at allowing team members to follow their own judgment, by making their own call on important day-to-day decisions. "With Investors in People, we worked with leaders and managers to help them develop a new leadership style – one of coaching and support, not directing and controlling," says Dorothy Christie, Organisational Development Manager at GHA. "The main thrust of our development programme was to develop the emotional intelligence of our leaders. They needed to understand the impact they had on others – particularly their own team." Demonstrating just how much their employees’ decisions were valued saw GHA’s staff engagement rocket to a staggering 87% and their customer satisfaction rise to 90% as a result .

To build a positive emotional atmosphere, leaders simply must work with their people and establish programmes that place emotional intelligence at the core of the business.